NRCC ELECTION MEMO
TO: INTERESTED PARTIES
FROM: NRCC COMMUNICATIONS
DATE: NOV. 4, 2009
SUBJECT: WHAT LAST NIGHT MEANS FOR VIRGINIA HOUSE DEMS
Tuesday night’s gubernatorial election results should send shivers down the spines of four Virginia House Democrats in GOP crosshairs next year. In a state where the last three top-of-the-ticket contests favored Democrats, Republican candidate Bob McDonnell cruised to a 17-point victory with a pro-jobs message that peeled independent voters away from Democrats.
Republicans also flipped eight House of Delegates seats, five of them within the boundaries of these targeted congressional districts. As state House Democratic Caucus Chairman Kenneth Plum told the Washington Post, “It’s been difficult to buck the headwind of the national mood.”
McDonnell carried Rep. Glenn Nye’s Hampton Roads by a 24-point margin, despite the president’s heavy presence there in the closing days of the campaign. Obama carried Nye’s district in 2008.
McDonnell also won the central and Southside Virginia district of Rep. Tom Perriello – rated by the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza as the most vulnerable Democrat in the country – by 23 points.
Southwest Virginia has been trending towards Republicans over the past few years despite Democrat gains in the Commonwealth. That movement continued in earnest last night, with McDonnell besting Deeds by a whopping 2-to-1 margin in Rep. Rick Boucher’s staunchly conservative district.
Perhaps most surprisingly, the allegedly deep blue Washington suburbs of Rep. Gerry Connolly’s district went red; McDonnell improved upon John McCain’s showing by 13 points.
All four of these Democrats, three of them freshmen, were considered vulnerable before last night – and these results underscore the trembling political ground on which they’re standing.
And when Perriello and Boucher argue that the agenda they share with President Obama is popular with their constituents and had nothing to do with Deeds’ landslide defeat, ask them why their own gubernatorial candidate – desperately scrambling for any vote he could get his hands on in the waning days of his struggling campaign – launched a TV ad in their districts slamming one of the centerpieces of that big-government agenda, the job-killing cap-and-trade bill.
INCUMBENT: GLENN NYE
GOP OPPONENTS: BUSINESSMEN/VETERANS SCOTT RIGELL & BEN LOYOLA
COOK RATING: LEAN DEMOCRAT
‘09: McDonnell 61.9%, Deeds 38.0%
‘08: Obama 50.5%, McCain 48.5%
‘06: Allen 51.0%, Webb 47.7%
‘05: Kaine 49.8%, Kilgore 46.8%
‘04: Bush 57.7%, Kerry 41.5%
Rep. Glenn Nye swept into office on the tide of a Democrat-friendly turnout model and a vigorous Obama campaign to take Virginia’s electoral votes. Nye, a newcomer who had little ties to Hampton Roads when elected, faces several problems in 2010.
As with this year’s gubernatorial race, core Democrat turnout in Hampton Roads is expected to be down significantly in 2010. In an effort to boost enthusiasm for Creigh Deeds among the party faithful, the president filmed a TV spot that aired in Hampton Roads in the closing days of the race and appeared at a Norfolk rally in late October – all to no avail. If last night was any indication of what the voter turnout model will look like one year from now – when congressional races are the only contests on Virginia ballots – Nye is in trouble.
He also may face personal resistance from local liberals. Nye, who as a blank-slate candidate became a cause célèbre among progressives, infuriated them this summer when he voted against cap-and-trade – then had the audacity to send a letter to a local liberal blogger touting its passage. He never mentioned his “no” vote. As Cook Political Report has pointed, “Nye probably received the worst press of any Democrat who bucked his party on the ‘cap and trade’ vote.”
The Obama administration and congressional Democrats pose a potent threat to Nye as a result of their plans to stop F-22 production and move an aircraft carrier from Norfolk, Va. to Jacksonville, Fla. The Hill newspaper has said that Nye’s fate may depend on whether he can keep the job-producing carrier from being relocated. And Obama’s plans to scrap the F-22 may have a detrimental impact on Hampton Roads, where the fighter jet is housed.
Finally, Nye is the only incumbent in the country who faces two challengers with over $400,000 in the bank. In a district with only one (relatively cheap) media market, that’s a strong starting point for his opponents one year out. Furthermore, Nye’s potential challengers each have stronger community and military ties than the incumbent – both of which are important in this culturally unique corner of Virginia.
Down-ballot, GOP challengers knocked off two Democrat state delegates in Virginia Beach districts that pulled the lever for Obama in 2008.
a.. Nye votes with Obama 69% of the time, according to CQ Politics
b.. Nye votes with Pelosi 83.5% of the time, according to the Washington Post
INCUMBENT: TOM PERRIELLO
GOP OPPONENT: STATE SEN. ROBERT HURT
COOK RATING: TOSS-UP
‘09: McDonnell 61.4%, Deeds 38.5%
‘08: McCain 50.6%, Obama 48.3%
‘06: Allen 53.8%, Webb 45.2%
‘05: Kaine 49.6%, Kilgore 48.4%
‘04: Bush 55.9%, Kerry 43.0%
Ranked by the Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza as the most vulnerable Democrat incumbent in the country, Rep. Tom Perriello will be hard-pressed to win re-election in 2010. In a district with a strong “surge voter” presence, including the University of Virginia, Perriello’s upset victory (by a 727-vote margin) last year was aided mightily by Obama’s presence at the top of the ticket. Not only will he will he lack that advantage in 2010, he’ll also be facing an angry electorate. His district is experiencing the highest unemployment rate in the state.
A loss of manufacturing and farming jobs has hit this rural/small-town region hard, and Perriello’s votes for the stimulus and cap-and-trade handed opponents ample ammunition to make the case that he’s made the problem worse.
In the wake of his cap-and-trade vote, Perriello came under intense political fire in the district and unwisely embarked on a two-week damage control tour seeking to explain why he was right and his constituents were wrong. His vocal self-defense earned him praise from national environmentalists like Al Gore and the League of Conservation Voters, but local voters and chambers of commerce spoke out against the bill. So did the Democrats’ own gubernatorial candidate – whose state Senate district overlaps with VA-05 – months later.
Roll Call notes that Perriello, an urbane international peace activist who grew up in the wealthy Charlottesville suburb of Ivy and graduated from Yale, is an “odd fit” for these populist-conservative parts. And his voting record shows it. In addition to his stimulus and cap-and-trade votes, he voted against an amendment to bar Guantanamo detainees from coming to U.S. and showed up as “leaning yes” on a whip list last week for the “robust public option” – a proposal that most fellow rural Democrats oppose because it’s bad for their local hospitals and doctors. Despite holding 21 town halls this summer and encountering immense opposition to government-run healthcare, Perriello seems poised to vote for Pelosi’s bill this weekend.
Most troubling for him, however, is the emergence of a top Republican recruit: state Sen. Robert Hurt. As a senator and delegate, Hurt has represented over 30% of the congressional district as a popular state legislator. Hurt’s geographic advantage and ideological harmony with the area’s voters will make him very tough to beat.
Down-ballot, two GOP state delegates targeted for defeat by Democrats won landslide re-elections. Del. Rob Bell of the Charlottesville area – which Deeds represents in the state Senate – prevailed by nearly 35 points in a swing seat, and Del. Danny Marshall beat the former mayor of Danville by nearly 30 points in a district that just last year handed Obama a 7-point victory.
a.. Perriello votes with Obama 81% of the time, according to CQ Politics
b.. Perriello votes with Pelosi 90.0% of the time, according to the Washington Post
INCUMBENT: RICK BOUCHER
GOP OPPONENT: (possibly) STATE DEL. TERRY KILGORE
COOK RATING: LIKELY DEMOCRAT
‘09: McDonnell 66.2%, Deeds 33.7%
‘08: McCain 58.7%, Obama 39.6%
‘06: Allen 54.9%, Webb 44.0%
‘05: Kilgore 55.3%, Kaine 43.1%
‘04: Bush 59.5%, Kerry 39.3%
A 27-year incumbent, Boucher should be safe – but he’s not, thanks to his high-profile lead role cheerleading a cap-and-trade bill that’s almost universally detested in the coalfields of Southwest Virginia.
There’s no question that Boucher will be well-funded and will enjoy the advantages of long-term incumbency. But for the first time in a long while, he’s saddled with a lock-step liberal voting record in support of a president who’s deeply unpopular in his district. In fact, Boucher was one of Obama’s earliest congressional endorsements in the Democrat presidential primary; against Hillary Clinton last spring and against John McCain last fall, Obama was roundly trounced here.
Republicans are recruiting a big-name candidate who could make this a top-tier race on day one: state Delegate Terry Kilgore, brother of former Atty. General/’05 gubernatorial nominee Jerry Kilgore. He would bring formidable name recognition and popularity to the race, in addition to an ideological profile that actually matches the district.
As Boucher has stayed in Washington year after year, he’s grown increasingly out-of-touch. His integral role in passing cap-and-trade is a shining example – constituents don’t tend to forget when their congressman sells out local jobs to help his Washington friends, and if Kilgore enters the race he’ll be able to take advantage of that potentially career-ending vote. Case in point: Creigh Deeds, scrambling for any vote he could get his hands on in the waning days of his struggling campaign, launched a TV spot slamming cap-and-trade in Southwest Virginia media markets.
Down-ballot – in a district that favored Creigh Deeds in 2005 and Jim Webb in 2006 – Democrat Del. Dan Bowling went down to a stunning 14-point defeat at the hands of Will Morefield, a Republican upstart who ran his campaign largely against the devastating cap-and-trade bill Boucher championed.
a.. Boucher votes with Obama 96% of the time, according to CQ Politics
b.. Boucher votes with Pelosi 98.0% of the time, according to the Washington Post
INCUMBENT: GERRY CONNOLLY
GOP OPPONENT: BUSINESSMAN/’08 NOMINEE KEITH FIMIAN
COOK RATING: LIKELY DEMOCRAT
‘09: McDonnell 55.1%, Deeds 44.7%
‘08: Obama 57.0%, McCain 42.1%
‘06: Webb 54.7%, Allen 44.2%
‘05: Kaine 55.7%, Kilgore 42.4%
‘04: Bush 49.9%, Kerry 49.3%
For the last several years, Northern Virginia symbolized the exodus of suburban independents from the Republican Party. Until last night, it was hard to imagine that President Bush won re-election in this district. This region was beginning to be seen as a solid Democrat bulwark. As McDonnell’s performance in the 11th District indicates, the pendulum has finally begun to swing the other way. In reality, this is a true swing district – not a Democratic one.
Independent-minded Republican Rep. Tom Davis represented this district until the beginning of 2009, winning by solid margins cycle after cycle. By contrast, freshman Democrat Gerry Connolly is one of the most partisan members of the freshman class. Despite campaigning for this open seat last year as a pragmatic moderate, he’s supported every major piece of his party’s liberal agenda – the stimulus, the budget, cap-and-trade and government healthcare. And there are signs that this very agenda – built in part on a renewed emphasis on demonizing the rich – may not be playing particularly well in this extremely affluent, educated district.
Last year, Connolly benefited from the fiercely anti-Republican political environment and a huge name recognition advantage from his days as Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman. Even so, he significantly underperformed Obama on the ballot against GOP entrepreneur Keith Fimian, who was widely credited for running a strong race in a difficult climate. Fimian is back for a rematch this year, and his prospects look much better. He outraised Connolly by $100,000 in his debut fundraising quarter, and he now enjoys name recognition that he had to spend precious resources building from scratch last year. Most importantly, the incumbent will be unable to hide behind moderate rhetoric any longer – he’ll be held accountable for his follow-the-leader voting record.
Down-ballot, Democrat Del. Paul Nichols lost a seat in the heart of Connolly’s district that went for Obama by 19% just one year ago. Democrat Del. Chuck Caputo, who represents a small piece of the 11th Congressional District in the General Assembly, also lost his re-election bid.
a.. Connolly votes with Obama 95% of the time, according to CQ Politics
b.. Connolly votes with Pelosi 97.2% of the time, according to the Washington Post
VIRGINIA ON GOVERNMENT-RUN HEALTHCARE
“53: That’s the percentage of likely Virginia voters who oppose the proposed changes to the health care system, according to new data in a Washington Post poll on the Commonwealth’s governor’s race. Of that 53 percent, 44 percent strongly oppose the changes. There is significantly less intensity among the 43 percent of likely voters who support the changes with just 29 percent supporting them strongly.” (Chris Cillizza, “The most important number in politics today,” Washington Post “The Fix,” 10/27/09)
“The poll, conducted for The Times-Dispatch last Tuesday to Thursday by Mason-Dixon Polling and Research, [found] 57 percent oppose a public-option, government-run insurance program as part of health-care reform, while 30 favor it, and 13 percent are undecided.48 percent oppose requiring all Americans to have health insurance, while 39 percent believe coverage should be mandatory. Thirteen percent are undecided. 81 percent say health-care reform will lead to higher taxes to cover its estimated 10-year, $1 trillion cost.52 percent believe health-care reform will result in the rationing of health care, while 29 percent think otherwise.51 percent say health-care reform will force major cuts in Medicare, a federal program that provides health and medical service for seniors. Thirty-one percent say it will not cause reductions in Medicare, and 18 percent don’t know.” (Jeff Schapiro, “Poll: Nearly half in Virginia oppose Obama’s plan for health-care reform,” Richmond Times-Dispatch, 10/13/09)